“Thy God bringeth thee into a good land,” were the words of William Penn as he introduced immigrants from England to the opportunities of the new settlement, now called Pennsylvania. It was indeed a good land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills,” as Penn went on to describe. “The soil is good, air serene and sweet from cedar, pine and sassafras, with a wild myrtle of great fragrance.”
Among the early settlers were Richard Wall and his wife Joane, who arrived in mid-summer of 1682, purchasing 300 acres listed in Penn’s original. land-grant survey in deeds dated May 2 & Sept 10, 1683. The Wall farmhouse, portions of which still stand in Wall Park by Tookany Creek in Elkins Park, was the first gathering place for meetings of the Religious Society of Friends in this area, originally convened there December 3, 1683.
In 1697 John Barnes donated 120 acres, situated about a mile north of the Wall house, “for erecting a meeting house for Friends and toward the maintenance of a school under the direction of Friends.” He also gave a gift of 100 pounds sterling), a more valuable gift than the land, which cost the equivalent of approximately 10 cents an acre. The original Meetinghouse was erected on the donated site between 1698 and 1699. The first recorded Abington Monthly Meeting for business was held there on April 9, 1702.
By the middle of the 18th century Abington’s meeting house was the only building large enough to hold Quarterly Meeting. This is the event held four times a year when all the monthly meetings in the area come together to conduct business. In 1760 a blacksmith shop was built adjacent to the meeting house. Many Quakers came to meeting in horse-drawn vehicles or on horseback; by having a blacksmith shop and engaging a smith for the day they could have their horses shod while they worshiped or attended to business. This structure still stands and is currently known as “the Short Stable.” The original school met in the meeting house until a separate structure was built for it in 1784; this still stands and is now the caretaker’s house. The meeting house was enlarged in 1786, probably using a part of the walls of the original structure, and again in 1797 when the western half of the present meetinghouse was built.
In 1827 Quakers in the Philadelphia area divided over issues raised by the “great revival,” a wave of religious enthusiasm that affected almost all protestants in America. In the countryside around Philadelphia Quaker farmers generally took the more conservative “Hicksite” side of the dispute, while in the city the more fashionable folk took the revival inspired “Orthodox” side. At Abington the result was that a small Orthodox faction built the “Little Abington” meeting house on a separate property about 1/4 mile to the east, a structure which still stands, now converted into an exhibit annex by the Abington Township Art Center.
Various improvements to the meeting house were made in the 19th century, including a movable partition installed at the request of female members, a balcony, and in 1893 a front porch. The building was heated by stoves until the “John Barnes Wing” was built in 1929, when central heating was added. Finally, the east wing was built for the preschool in 1966.
For more information about the preschool and school visit www.abingtonfriends.net